Americans with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. Not surprising, considering longer life expectancies, increased numbers of veterans with disabilities, and increased numbers of people living with chronic, nonfatal, but disabling conditions.
Everyone wants to feel invited, welcomed, and part of the event. So with these guests in mind, I have outlined a few key considerations for hosting people with disabilities at your next gathering:
- Include questions that ask specifically about your guests’ needs and accommodation preferences.
- Disclose the use of strobe lights, fireworks, fog machines, and other components that may cause unusually loud sounds or produce chemical smells.
- Inform guests of group activities so that guests with disabilities can determine their own level of interest and ability to participate. Make these group activities optional, or better yet, plan activities that everyone can easily enjoy.
- Think space. Guests with wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and crutches need more space to move around. A good rule of thumb is: if 10% or more of guests are expected to use mobility aids, plan for 30% additional space. Make sure aisles are wide enough, both horizontally and between rows.
- Think comfort & convenience: Accessible restrooms should be located on the same floor as the meeting or event, but if this is not possible, plan on scheduling longer breaks between sessions. If your event takes place on different floors, account for distant or slow elevators, which will also require increased break times. Remember to prop open doors at the beginning and end of the event or session to allow for a smooth flow of guests in and out of the space.
- Think safety: Keep pathways free of clutter and other obstacles. Use masking tape or stanchions to mark off pathways from storage areas. Look for tripping hazards such as wires, uneven brinks, and even door jams.
- Allow guests to safely navigate to their tables and seats by making sure that tables are at least 3 feet apart. Keep in mind that scooters and wheelchairs require more space, so decrease the number of chairs at a round table by two, and, avoid seating a guest in a scooter or wheelchair at the table leg.
- Table-top surface should be no higher than 34 inches above the floor and there should be at least 27 inches of clear space underneath so that guests seated in a wheelchair can get their feet and knees under the table.
- Be prepared to store scooters, walkers, crutches, and other mobility aids by the chair or nearby.
- When a guest transfers from a scooter to a chair or puts down their cane, venue and event staff should be prepared to assist, but always ask permission before moving a mobility aid and make sure the guest knows where you have stored their aids.
- Buffets are a great way to provide a variety of food options, but they can be a challenge for guests who are blind, using a service animal, or using a mobility aid. Banquet and event staff should be prepared to assist, but always ask—wait for a response and wait for instructions before proceeding.
- A great way to increase comfort, convenience, and customer service is to provide straws, to offer pre-cut meals, to select easy to eat food options, and in some cases, easy to recognize food options.
A couple of final tips:
When a guest with a disability is accompanied by an assistant, look at and speak directly to the guest, rather than to or through the assistant. And, please, don’t touch a service animal without first asking for permission.
This is by no means a full list of best practices, but a few key ideas to help event planners and hosts become more aware, more considerate, and more welcoming.
For additional information, I have provided the following links: